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YOU SHOULD KNOW: About Vancouver Comics As Historical Resources (Seriously)

by Stevie Wilson | I’m not ashamed to admit that you could have found me at the Convention Center for the Vancouver Fan Expo (April 21-22), perusing the booths and waiting in line for an Adam West autograph. The next Vancouver Comic Con is on May 13th, and I’ll be there. Admittedly, I don’t know much about comics. I do know, however, that Vancouver’s relationship with comic artistry, underground and otherwise, is generally excluded by standardized histories of civic art. At best, we read ironic snippets referencing the 1954 Prior Street book burning – Captain America wasn’t always so popular – or a casual mention of David Boswell, et al., and the Vancouver comix scene. It’s unusual to hear about graphic novels and comics (if you consider there to be a distinction) as much more than conduits of personal histories and fantasy stories. Indeed, when comics are referenced in the context of historical study, usually the name Maus is as good as it gets. When studying domestic comics, however, and more precisely comic artistry, it’s easy to see that they possess a significant methodological value for those seeking insight into Vancouver’s past, because through comics (and our ever-evolving relationship with them) social history and reflections are born. Times are changing; comics are getting a little more academic attention, and it’s an interesting progression to observe. UBC recently featured a trial archive system on their library website:

“Underground and Independent Comics, Comix, and Graphic Novels is the first ever scholarly, primary source database focusing on adult comic books and graphic novels. Beginning with the first underground comix from the 1960’s to the works of modern sequential artists, this collection (did) contain more than 75,000 pages of comics and graphic novels, along with 25,000 pages of interviews, criticism, and journal articles that document the continual growth and evolution of this artform.”

The trial ended March 16th (email UBC to let them know you’d like it back for good at [email protected]). It provided a glimpse into the value of comic books and graphic novels as historical documents. The trial suggested not only that comic books are veritable scholarly resources, but also complemented their capstone History Majors’ seminar focusing on the history of the graphic novel. I never took the course, but I did read the material. As I flipped through Scott McLeod’s Understanding Comics it became clear that the methods, mediums, and vibrant evolution of comics are a subject worth paying a little attention to, even if you’re not one to sport spandex bodysuits in public. Visit the UBC Ephemera Research Guide to search through the expansive Library collections, including the Drippy Gazette and other Vancouver-based comics. The VPL has also got a pretty decent collection of local material, including  Woodsquat, the Drippytown compilation, and works by the aforementioned David Boswell. A year ago, the thought of attending a “comicon” would have elicited a hearty guffaw from me at the very least. Not anymore; History and comic book geeks are aligning – and we all know what happened in Revenge of the Nerds.


Stevie Wilson is an historian masquerading as a writer. After serving as an editor for the UBC History Journal, she’s decided to branch out with a cryptic agenda: encouraging the people of Vancouver to take notice of their local history and heritage with You Should Know, a Scout column that aims to show you the things that you already see. Just nod your head and pretend you’re paying attention.


There are 3 comments

  1. Indeed VPL does have some great comic/graphic novel resources. Check out the zines (http://guides.vpl.ca/zines) and graphic novels on Level 2 of the Central Branch as well as the art books on Level 6 (books about animation, political cartooning, comics, and some classic graphic novels). In May there will be a modest display on Level 6 celebrating the comic arts in support of Vancouver’s first Comic Arts Festival (May 26-27) at the Roundhouse: http://www.vancaf.com/. Thanks for the great article about comics and Vancouver History!